Vulgar pleasures the scandalous worldliness of Burton’s “Arabian nights”

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This essay examines Richard Francis Burton’s The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (1885–1888), an English translation of the Arabic Alf Laylah wa-Laylah stories that was enormously popular in its own time and continues to be widely admired today – despite the fact that Burton plagiarized extensively from the work of another translator. I argue that Burton’s Nights is neither a faithful nor an original translation of the Arabic stories, but rather an English text whose aesthetic enjoyment is proffered as an affective engagement with the literary aesthetics of the source text, translated through Burton’s own pleasurable experiences of Arabic literary language. Framing the reception of Burton’s Nights, through the Arabic concept of tarab, as a process of iterative cycles of pleasure that move between the translator and his readers, I contend that what makes Burton’s Nights enjoyable to read also makes it scandalous to the world literary system within which it has circulated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-64
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of World Literature
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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